Why the SI Swimsuit Issue Doesn't Care if Anyone Goes to its Music Festival [Update]

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Kate Upton's stimulus package. - WALTER IOOSS JR. / SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
  • Walter Iooss Jr. / Sports Illustrated
  • Kate Upton's stimulus package.

There is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Music Festival, sponsored by Lexus, where blog-approved bands like White Denim and the Black Lips will play at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Wait, what?

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Beauties & Beats Music Fest (didn't spend much time on that name, did they?) will be held today and tomorrow at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. The ten bands scheduled to perform are Delta Spirit, Elan Atias & White Elephant, J. Roddy Walston & the Business, Little Hurricane, Maluca, Nick Waterhouse, Vonnegutt, Selebrities, White Denim and the Black Lips as headliner. This coincides with a series of videos on the SI Swimsuit web site soundtracked by the same bands (plus a few more). How a sports magazine came to host a music festival via its annual bikini diversion says a lot about new media strategy and how its marketing departments have become unlikely (and essential) patrons of up-and-coming musicians.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which hit billboards, Late Night and (oh yeah) newsstands earlier this week, continues to expand beyond the glossy confines of its cleavage-adorned pages. It resembles most media in 2012 in that there are apps, online video, social media tie-ins, a Google Chrome plug-in and real-life events and parties. Except the money is much bigger and the cross-platform promotion is compounded many times over. How relevant any of it is to the magazine under whose title this whole thing ostensibly flys isn't much of a concern, which is how stuff like this happens.

The Swimsuit Issue is enormous business. In a world where most magazines (including the sports-related issues of Sports Illustrated) are struggling to keep afloat, the Swimsuit Issue continues to grow -- ad revenue was up 8% this year. That puts the total somewhere north of $50 million. Ten percent of the haul made by Time Warner (which owns Turner Broadcasting System, which owns SI) comes from "experiential and event marketing," including the music fest. So that's some part of a $5 million piece of a very big pie. The money, however, is a secondary concern at most. At this level, it's media empires and big-ticket casinos and car companies shuffling chips marked with dollar signs and visibility in key demographics. Billboard's business arm did a wonderful job untangling this particular web, and in the resulting article you can watch PR flacks build a big web of buzzwords and self-sustaining enthusiasm. Lexus is excited because its launching a new car targeted at the readers of the Swimsuit Issue, which in turn is looking to "basically enhance" (?) the "Swimsuit experience" by integrating music. The Cosmopolitan "hopes that bringing ten indie bands to the casino floor will be just the kind of cutting-edge stunt to get noticed in the Strip's increasingly crowded music scene." The bands, if you're looking for one more link to add to your chain, were selected by Time Out: Chicago's Music Editor Brent Dicrescenzo. Because Sports Illustrated has a staff populated by people who know about sports, not music.

We don't know exactly how much each band is getting paid to participate. But we assure you it's more than they're making in average month (year, even) in record sales. When the huge swath fell out of the music industry between bands peddling CD-Rs and bands winning Grammys, everyone else has had to look to unconventional means to make a living. And many musicians are turning to big-ticket marketing budgets in totally unrelated industries to put food on the table. It resembles the patronage that sustained art of all kinds for centuries, with corporations in the place of kings and Popes.

Of course, the corporations aren't buying music. It doesn't matter if a band is bad or good, only that they have the approval of the right consumers. But given the choice between selling influence and trying to sell music in the smoldering remains of the market, we'd take the endorsement deal every single time. Mountain Dew has a record label, Chevy has a Showcase and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has a Music Festival.

Update: Neither SI nor The Cosmopolitan is actually advertising this thing anywhere. The casino lists the bands and times but never mentions that they're part of an SI Swimsuit Music Festival. And Sports Illustrated doesn't have the festival featured in any part of its prominent swimsuit coverage. The magazine did send out press releases about Beauties & Beats, but they spend most of their time talking about music integration in the many platforms of the Swimsuit Issue. You have to go to local Las Vegas events listings to find the basic information you might need to attend; only there will you learn that all sets are free and open to the public.

The Beauties & Beats promotional video, which you can watch below, isn't any more specific, mentioning only that you can check online for photos later in the week. What matters to the organizers of this Music Festival isn't what happens on stage but who knows it happened.

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